Female Sexuality: The Early Psychoanalytic Controversies

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The papers collected together in this volume laid the groundwork for contemporary psychoanalytic women's studies and gender theory. They cover a period from June 1917, when Johan van Ophuijsen presented his paper on the masculinity complex in women to the Dutch Psycho-Analytical Society, to April 1935, when Ernest Jones read a paper on early female sexuality to the Vienna Psycho-Analytical Society.Although these papers are often referred to in discussions of female sexuality, and although some individual papers have been reproduced elsewhere, they have never before appeared together as a collection. Anyone who has read these papers will be aware of their importance to the topic of female sexuality. But it is not the theme alone that unifies the collection. There are two further considerations of equal importance: the dialogue and debate that take place between the papers, from first to last; and the considerable impact they had on the development of certain of Freud's key themes. The papers have a clear historical interest but rereading them today will also show their continuing relevance to debates within and outside psychoanalysis on female sexuality.This collection contains papers by Karl Abraham, Marie Bonaparte, Ruth Mack Brunswick, Helene Deutsch, Otto Fenichel, Karen Horney, Ernest Jones, Melanie Klein, Jeanne Lampl de Groot, Josine Muller, Carl Muller-Braunschweig, Johan H. W. van Ophuijsen, Joan Riviere, and August Starcke.

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1 - Contributions to the Masculinity Complex in Women

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J. H. W. Van Ophuijsen (1917)

International Journal of Psycho-Analysis 5(1924):39-49

Undoubtedly, ‘Contributions to the Masculinity Complex in Women,’ is an underrated paper. This may be due to its not being published in English until 1924, well after Freud introduced the term ‘masculinity complex’ into his own writings. However, Van Ophuijsen's paper was originally presented to the Dutch Psycho-Analytical Society much earlier, on 23rd June 1917. It was published in German the same year and in Dutch the following year.

The term ‘masculinity complex’ is in fact van Ophuijsen's invention and Freud acknowledges his debt in his 1919 paper, ‘A Child is Being Beaten’. It is also in the present paper that various manifestations and possible consequences of penis envy are first clearly expressed, just as the libidinal investment in the ‘virile’ erogenous zone is linked to the attachment to the mother. This last point is particularly important, and Freud will later appeal to it in explaining the phallicism of the little girl.

 

2 - The Castration Complex

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August Stärcke (1920)

International Journal of Psycho-Analysis 2(1921):179-201. Translation by Douglas Bryan.

First read at the Sixth International Psycho-Analytical Congress in September 1920 at The Hague and published in English one year later, Stärcke's paper is in part a response to van Ophuijsen's views on the masculinity complex. He denies that in the masculinity complex of women, feelings of guilt are absent; it is just that they are projected onto others and expressed as embitterment and feelings of injustice. In thus questioning the rationale for van Ophuijsen's distinction between masculinity complex and castration complex, Stärcke anticipates later developments proposed by Joan Riviere.

Stärcke is concerned by the same problem that led to van Ophuijsen's position: the universality, in both men and women, of the castration complex. It is a problem because of the assumption that the fear of castration must be based on a concrete experience. In the case of the boy this experience is clearly the threat of the loss of the penis; but there can be no corresponding threat for the girl. His logic leads him to focus on the situation of the child at the breast and the event of weaning, since this alone can account for the universality of the complex. The paper focuses on exploring the reasons why this loss is displaced from the mouth onto the genitals.

 

3 - Manifestations of the Female Castration Complex

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Karl Abraham (1922)

International Journal of Psycho-Analysis 3(1922): 1-29

Abraham's ‘Manifestations of the Female Castration Complex’ is an amplified version of a paper read at the Sixth International Psychoanalytical Congress in 1920 at The Hague. It was published in English two years later.

Drawing on a number of clinical examples, Abraham rigorously explores some of the manifestations of the female castration complex. The paper starts with the observation that many women want to be a man and dislike being a woman. Abraham cites the ‘poverty in their external genitalia’ as the basis for this envy and later psychopathology. He then draws on Freud and sets the evolution of woman in developmental stages, discussing both its normative aim and some of its deviations. For Abraham, the girl mistakes her primary ‘defect’, which is that in comparison with the boy she lacks a penis, as secondary: she had a penis, but it was taken away. This idea that she has been robbed combines with the associated idea of female genitalia as a wound to explain the hostility or wish for revenge sometimes expressed by women towards men.

 

4 - Origins and Growth of Object Love

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Karl Abraham (1924)

Part 2 of ‘A Short Study of the Development of the Libido’, Selected Papers of Karl Abraham. London: Hogarth Press, 1927, pp 480-501.

This clinical piece by Abraham is the second part of his 1924 study, ‘A Short Study of the Development of the Libido’, which focuses on the psychosexual pathology of the narcissistic neuroses. While the first part is confined to the theory of the pregenital levels of the libido, the second part traces the development of the relation of individuals to their love objects.

Though it may appear that the detailed clinical observations related here are sometimes beside the point of femininity, they do however give a clear picture of the various manifestations of the castration complex. This actually leads Abraham to trace the genesis of penis envy to an oral fixation, a point Stärcke, in the paper included in this collection, had developed on the basis of an earlier piece by Abraham. Moreover, Abraham's observations on identification anticipate Freud's distinction between primary and secondary identification. In point of fact, if there is one article which is central to the controversy on female sexuality, this is the one: since all contributors either quote it or discuss it, and do so not only because of the frequently cited table surveying psychosexual development which is discussed in the conclusion.

 

5 - The Psychology of Women in Relation to the Functions of Reproduction

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Helene Deutsch (1924)

International Journal of Psycho-Analysis 6(1925):405-418.

Originally presented before the Eighth International Psycho-Analytical Congress held in Salzburg in April 1924, ‘The Psychology of Women in Relation to the Functions of Reproduction’ was published in English in 1925.

In this paper Deutsch endorses and expands Freud's views about sexual development in relation to erogenous zones. What she shows here is how one becomes a woman, i.e., how the switch in valuation of the female genital occurs and how this event relates to the function of reproduction; and it emerges that for Deutsch, ‘woman’ means the ‘phallic mother’.

The starting point of the paper is that the development of the infantile libido to the normal heterosexual object choice is more difficult in women: the little girl has to give up a masculinity bound up with the clitoris and, in the difficult transition from the phallic phase (whose importance is emphasized) to the vaginal phase, she has to discover a new organ ‘in her own person’ through a passive and masochistic submission to the penis. The truly feminine attitude to the vagina finds its origins in the oral activity of the child at the breast. This, Deutsch posits, reflects the whole psychological difference displayed by the mature woman in her relations with the object-world, since the psychic significance of coitus lies in the repetition and mastery of the trauma of a symbolic form of castration; incorporating the penis repeats the trauma of weaning.

 

6 - The Flight from Womanhood: The Masculinity-Complex in Women, as Viewed by Men and Women

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Karen Horney (1925)

International Journal of Psycho-Analysis 7 (1926):324-39

This paper was first read under the title ‘A Woman's Thoughts on the Masculinity Complex in Women’ at a meeting of the Berlin Society on 31st October 1925. It was published in German and in English in 1926.

While appearing to endorse Freud's mature views on male and female sexuality, described in such places as ‘The Infantile Genital Organization of the Libido’ and ‘Some Psychical Consequences of the Anatomical Differences between the Sexes’, Horney questions here the supremacy of the male point of view in the analytic field of inquiry. She disputes the version of the little girl as a castrated little man and posits a womanly relation to the father as the origin of the castration complex which is resolved through identifying with the masculine position. She introduces the term ‘primary’ penis envy in relation to mere anatomical difference which, in her view, is reinforced by a realization of the privileges of the boy in connection with urethral eroticism, the scopophilic drive, and masturbation. She then distinguishes a secondary formation in which women reject their female functions and take flight from womanhood by seeking refuge in an unconscious desire to be a man. Horney argues that the reason this flight is encountered so frequently in women is that it offers the girl a way of repudiating libidinal wishes and fantasies concerning the father.

 

7 - A Contribution to the Problem of Libidinal Development of the Genital Phase in Girls

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by Josine Müller (1925)

International Journal of Psycho-Analysis 13(1932):361-68f.

Josine Müller's paper was read at a meeting of the German Psycho-Analytical Society on 10th November 1925. The author died suddenly at the close of the year 1930, and this piece was published posthumously in 1932 with an introduction by Carl Müller-Braunschweig, her husband.

Like Horney, Josine Müller argues that the vagina has a greater significance than any other erotogenic zone: since libidinal cathexis of the vagina occurs during the infantile genital period, it makes no sense to privilege the clitoris as erotic site. On the basis of the observation of children and of the analysis of patients she demonstrates that there is a ‘vigorous instinctual impulse’ associated with the vagina. She links the repression of this impulse with penis envy and clitoral excitation with urethral fantasies. Worth noting is that Müller lays particular stress upon Horney's distinction between primary and secondary penis envy.

 

8 - The Genesis of the Feminine Super-Ego

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Carl Müller-Braunschweig (1926)

International Journal of Psycho-Analysis 7(1926):359-62

The article starts with two interrelated questions: what in the little girl is equivalent to castration anxiety? And how does she form a super-ego of sufficient strength to ‘oppose and overcome’ her Oedipal wishes? Müller-Braunschweig's answers highlight the passivity of a certain feminine attitude, which he links to the little girl's unconscious knowledge of the passivity of the vagina. He is critical of Freud and characterizes Freud's view of early sexuality as starting from a masculine position.

Müller-Braunschweig argues for a type of sexual unconscious essentialism where there is a feminine id in girls which desires to be overpowered in contrast to a masculine id in boys which demands to overpower and penetrate the woman. The crucial difference between the two sexes is as follows. Assuming that the ego is always concerned with activity, there is a conjunction of aims between masculine ego and masculine id, whereas the drive towards activity of the feminine ego is at odds with the passive aim of the feminine id, which leads to the reaction formation of the feminine super-ego. It is this passive attitude of the little girl that Müller-Braunschweig considers to be the female equivalent of castration anxiety.

 

9 - The Early Development of Female Sexuality

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Ernest Jones (1927)

International Journal of Psycho-Analysis 8(1927):459-72

First presented at the Tenth International Congress of Psycho-Analysis in Innsbruck on 1st September 1927, Jones's paper appeared in print in October of the same year.

Jones starts with Freud's now well known claim about the inadequacy of psychoanalytic knowledge regarding female sexuality. He sides with Horney in seeing the cultural bias against women as one of the reasons for this inadequacy and he puts forward his own claim concerning the phallocentric bias of male analysts. Jones explores two questions. The first is the very same question that Carl Müller-Braunschweig (see above) had raised in the same journal the previous year: what, in women, corresponds to the fear of castration? His second question is: what differentiates the path of homosexual women from that of heterosexual women?

Jones has two major objections to the notion of castration: first that the psychoanalytic concept of castration is equated with the abolition of sexuality, as opposed to a partial threat to sexual enjoyment; and second that penis envy in women is partial and secondary, from which he concludes that the threat of castration is also partial and secondary. In the place of castration, Jones proposes another concept, ‘aphanisis’, for the total and permanent loss of the capacity for sexual enjoyment. In his view, this is the real ‘bedrock’ of the neuroses. Along with Deutsch and Klein, interestingly enough, Jones argues that while no woman escapes penis envy, it only plays a small role in neurosis.

 

10 - Early Stages of the Oedipus Conflict

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Melanie Klein (1927)

International Journal of Psycho-Analysis 9(1928):167-80

Klein's article differs from the other pieces collected here in that it is based upon analysis with children rather than recollections of childhood by adults. Read at the Tenth International Psycho-Analytical Congress, Innsbruck, September 3, 1927, this paper was first published in 1928.

The article synthesises and endorses the ideas of authors whose views on the Oedipus complex were very different from Freud's. Klein mentions the work of Horney and Deutsch, but Abraham could well be added to the list. Klein argues that there exists a primary, ‘incorporative’, femininity in both sexes, based on an early identification with the mother. In the case of the little girl, it is the receptive and passive aims of the oral and anal phases that determine the girl's turning towards the father.

For Klein, the Oedipus complex occurs much earlier than it does for Freud, prompted as it is by the frustrations experienced by the child at weaning. The Oedipal situation is then reinforced as a result of the frustrations experienced during toilet training. It follows that penis envy is, as for Horney, a secondary formation. In attributing a much greater influence on the Oedipus complex to pregenital conflicts, Klein downplays the role of the anatomical difference between the sexes in the development of female sexuality.

 

11 - The Evolution of the Oedipus Complex in Women

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Jeanne Lampl de Groot (1928)

International Journal of Psycho-Analysis 9(1928):332-45

Jeanne Lampl de Groot emphasises the importance of the girl's attachment to the mother prior to her encountering the castration complex. She thus considers the castration complex in girls to be a secondary formation that succeeds an earlier ‘negative Oedipus complex’ in which the girl's mother is her love object and the father her rival. Further, it is only from the negative Oedipus complex that the castration complex derives its psychic significance. Such emphasis on this early negative complex, she argues, might throw more light on disturbances encountered in the mental life of women, for instance, the denial of sexual desire and frigidity. This ‘object relations’ approach which stresses the early attachment to the mother is supported by two cases, one of whom had earlier been in treatment with van Ophuijsen. It is this study that Freud has in mind when he refers to Lampl de Groot in his 1931 paper, ‘Female Sexuality’.

 

12 - Womanliness as a Masquerade

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Joan Riviere (1929)

International Journal of Psycho-Analysis 9(1929):303-13

Joan Riviere's ‘Womanliness as a Masquerade’, published in 1929, is one of the most frequently referred to papers in this collection.

The title of the paper takes its cue from the dreams that an analysand, whose history is summed up here, had of people putting on masks in order to avert disaster and injury. Riviere first offers a synopsis of Jones's essay ‘The Early Development of Female Sexuality’ (with its rough schema of heterosexual, homosexual and ‘intermediate’ types) to introduce her analysand, ‘a particular type of intellectual woman’, who, as one of Jones's intermediate types, is principally heterosexual in development but also displays strong features of the other sex. Riviere's suggestion is that women who wish for masculinity may put on a mask of womanliness to avert anxiety and the retribution feared from men. The case study is given in support of this claim: womanliness is assumed and worn as a mask both to hide the possession of masculinity and to avert the reprisals expected if found guilty of the crime (cf. her analogy with the thief).

 

13 - The Significance of Masochism in the Mental Life of Women

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Helene Deutsch (1929)

International Journal of Psycho-Analysis 11(1930):48-60

‘The Significance of Masochism in the Mental Life of Women’ was first read at the Eleventh International Psycho-Analytical Congress on 27th July 1929 at Oxford. It appeared in English one year later.

Deutsch examines here ‘the genesis of femininity’, i.e., the feminine, passive and masochistic disposition, in the mental life of women by focusing on the relation of the function of ‘feminine instinct’ to the function of reproduction. She also discusses the related topic of frigidity.

Although Deutsch first sums up and reinforces Freud's views on the masculinity complex, particularly about erotogenicity and the supremacy of the phallic zone, she then shifts her argument towards an investigation of woman's ‘anatomical destiny’. Deutsch's question is, ‘What, then, does happen to the actively directed cathexis of the clitoris in the phase when that organ ceases to be valued as the penis?’ Her answer is that the hitherto active-sadistic libido attached to the clitoris regressively cathects points in the pregenital development while it is deflected (also regressively) towards masochism and gives rise to the masochistic fantasy of castration (which is identified with rape and parturition). This, she argues, is the foundation of the passive-feminine disposition which determines the development of femininity. Frigidity arises out of the vicissitudes of this infantile masochistic libidinal development while the girl's identification with motherhood is masochistic in character.

 

14 - The Pregenital Antecedents of the Oedipus Complex

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Otto Fenichel (1931)

International Journal of Psycho-Analysis 12(1931):141-66

Fenichel's article first appeared in English in 1931. It is very much a synthesis of what has been said on the importance of preoedipal matters linking the castration complex and the Oedipus complex from the point of view of object-relations.

Fenichel starts from the Freudian premise that the Oedipus complex is the nucleus not just of the neuroses but of the unconscious. But interestingly enough he opposes both Freud and Klein with regard to the timing and development of the Oedipus complex. On the basis of his own findings in case studies of adult analysands, he disagrees with Klein and attempts to distinguish between pregenital and autoerotic tendencies from the point of view of object relations.

He initially raises the question how the Oedipus complex, properly so-called, evolves from its pregenital preliminary phases. But it soon becomes apparent that the real focus of the paper is in the more specific question how the change in aim and object of females’ pregenital relations, which is necessary for entry to the Oedipus complex, comes about.

 

15 - On Female Homosexuality

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Helene Deutsch (1932)

Psychoanalytic Quarterly 1(1932):484-510 Authorized translation by Edith B. Jackson

In this paper, which is based on eleven case studies of female homosexuality, Deutsch traces the genesis of female homosexuality. She considers that sexual inversion is a return to the primary fixation to the mother caused by a flight from the father and is a regressive relation along active/passive (rather than masculine/feminine) lines. Here more than ever before Deutsch emphasises the little girl's attachment to hatred for the mother.

The analysis revolves around the castration complex. Unlike van Ophuijsen, Deutsch talks about an exaggerated penis envy rather than a ‘masculinity complex’. In her view, the female homosexual's sexual excitement is bound up with the maternal prohibition and with the consequent intense aggressive impulses towards the mother.

In all of the cases examined, she argues, the mother-child relation at pregenital levels dominates the perverse relationship with the love object. Thus, the little girl who feels rejected by her father because of denial, disappointment or anxiety, turns back to the mother for protection and peace. A subsequent direct prohibition of masturbation and interference with the activity unleashes the daughter's hostility against the disciplinary mother. It is, besides, through phallic masturbation that the affective discovery of the anatomical deficiency occurs.

 

16 - The Dread of Woman: Observations on a Specific Difference in the Dread Felt by Men and Women Respectively for the Opposite Sex

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Karen Horney (1932)

International Journal of Psycho-Analysis 13(1932):348-60

Karen Horney's paper starts with a meditation on poetry to foreground the ideas of woman as other and as primal element (water) that swallows up the man who is seduced. Horney suggests that man strives to free himself from the dread of woman by seeking objective grounds for it and she warns against the cultural consequences of this state of affairs. Thus Horney really asks two questions here: Why this dread of woman, which is kept secret as a strategy in support of male self-respect? And why this abhorrence, or fear, of the vagina that is so blatant in male homosexuality, fetishism and in the dreams of all male analysands, and yet so often concealed behind the dread of the father?

Her reply is that the masculine dread of woman as mother or of the female genital is more deep-seated and more strongly repressed than the dread of the father. Moreover, the father is more tangible and fearing him leaves male self-esteem intact.

 

17 - The Denial of the Vagina: A Contribution to the Problem of the Genital Anxieties Specific to Women

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Karen Horney (1933)

International Journal of Psycho-Analysis 14(1933):57-70

In the present article, which first appeared in 1933, Karen Horney begins by summing up Freud's early views on the sexual development of the little girl, leading to the thesis of penis envy and heterosexual object choice, in order to question the primacy of a phallic sexuality and its consequences for an understanding of female psychology.

If Freud's views relating to the phallic phase and penis envy were right, Horney argues, the following would also be true: overcoming ‘masculine impulses’ would be imperative to an affirmation of femininity at each critical point in the development of female sexuality; homosexuality would be more common among women; the wish to have a child would have to be secondary and substitutive; and a woman's relation to life would have to spring from resentment.

Horney opposes the theory of penis envy on the basis of observations of little girls aged from 3 to 5 (expressions of a desire for breasts and wish for a child are common in boys of the same age, yet this has no influence on the child's behaviour as a whole) and posits the existence of a bisexual disposition in all human beings that would disappear with the choice of a love object. She then questions Freud's views regarding erotogenic zones and lists a series of situations in which spontaneous vaginal sensations occur as a result of general sexual stimulation. She argues that clitoral masturbation is artificially induced and thus does not reflect ‘normality’. She also refers to sexual fantasies which support her hypothesis of the existence of a vaginal sexuality and which explain anomalies such as frigidity and vaginal anxiety.

 

18 - Passivity, Masochism and Femininity

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Marie Bonaparte (1934)

International Journal of Psycho-Analysis. 16(1935):325-33

Marie Bonaparte's important piece on ‘Passivity, Masochism and Femininity’ was first read at the Thirteenth International Psycho-Analytical Congress in Lucerne (1934). The present version was published in 1935.

Bonaparte teases out here the distinction between masochism and passivity as they relate to the psychosexual development in girls. She starts with the observation that in the sphere of reproduction, and through experiences such as defloration, women experience much more suffering than men. This implies that from a biological and causal perspective women are predisposed towards masochism. She notes Freud's characterization of masochism as having a feminine form and Deutsch's claim that masochism is necessary to woman's psychosexual development.

On the basis of observations of children, with their sadistic conception of coitus, Bonaparte takes her distance from both Freud and Deutsch by ascertaining that women can experience erotic pleasure unpredicated on masochism. The problem, though, is not only that the woman has two erogenous zones for sexual enjoyment, but also that the maternal function seems to highlight pain, fear, and suffering. Thus, Bonaparte's question is, how does the woman negotiate the dualism of erotic pleasure from the maternal function? or, how does woman obtain passive erotic pleasure without sliding into a defensive masochism that shuns penetration and eroticizes the clitoris over the vagina?

 

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